Dick Cheney opens up about his heart

Posted at 8:43 PM, Oct 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-20 20:50:28-04

(CNN) — Sometimes, there’s just too much to worry about.

Around 9/11, for example, then-Vice President Dick Cheney said he didn’t have the luxury of worrying about his health. He’d already had several heart attacks by that point.

“I didn’t think about my health. I was thinking about the problem we were dealing with,” he told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta in an interview that aired Sunday night on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It will air Tuesday on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”

But life has a persistent way of intruding — and intrude his heart problems did — many times over Cheney’s long political career.

He recounts that story in his new book, “Heart: An American Medical Odyssey,” co-written by Cheney’s cardiologist Jonathan Reiner.

It’s described as a medical tale that looks at breakthroughs in cardiac care over the last 40 years. It’s also a story about how Cheney’s disease overlapped with key moments in history.

Just about two months after taking the oath as vice president, Cheney wrote a secret letter of resignation. It was pending for the entire time he served.

Cheney wrote the letter because he saw a gap in the U.S. Constitution. If a vice president is alive but incapacitated, there’s nothing in the Constitution that allows for that person’s removal. Worried that he might find himself in that position, he penned the letter.

The 72-year-old Cheney suffered his first heart attack in 1978, at age 37, while campaigning for Congress.

It was the first of five heart attacks. He suffered subsequent heart attacks in 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2010. Cheney also underwent an open heart surgery and had a pacemaker implanted.

In 2007, when he needed his implanted defibrillator replaced, his cardiologist ordered the manufacturer to disable the wireless feature out of concern that someone could send a signal to the device and shock the vice president into cardiac arrest.

In 2010, Cheney had a Left Ventricular Assist Device, or LVAD, implanted to help his heart pump.

The LVAD, a battery-operated heart pump, is basically used to buy people time — a last resort, if you will — while they await a new heart. Cheney waited 20 months for a transplant, undergoing the procedure last year.

After appearing frail and weak, he now seems full of energy and is back to a normal weight. His color has returned and he has no shortness of breath.

Asked by Gupta how he is feeling, Cheney said “fantastic.”

“Now I’m to the point where — I literally, you know, feel like I have a new heart, a lot more energy than I had previously. There aren’t any real physical limits on what I do. I fish, I hunt. And — I don’t ski, but that’s because of my knees, not my heart. So it’s — it’s been a miracle,” he said.

It’s like having a new lease on life.

“You wake up every morning with a smile on your face because you’ve got a new day you never expected to have. And there’s a sense, well, of wonderment. Nothing short of magical,” Cheney said.

CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.